A reader writes:
My daughter suffers from migraines related to most scents. Is there anything she can ask her employer to do about others wearing perfumes to work? When I was working it was understood that fragrances were not to be used, it was considered rude at the very least.
There are offices that have implemented fragrance-free policies for reasons like this. I’ve always been curious about how they work — and how well — because so many things have fragrances other than perfume. Fragrances from laundry detergent, body lotion, hair products, and even soap can all linger, particularly if they’re strong to begin with. So I’m not sure one of these policies could ever be fully effective, although I’m sure they at least cut down on the problem.
That said, there’s wide variation in whether or not an employer will be open to trying a fragrance-free policy … to say nothing of the variation in how coworkers will respond to it. Some people think fragrance-sensitive people are overreacting and they should just deal with it (regardless of what the medical literature says). Some people take great offense to being told what personal products they can and can’t use. Others, of course, are more sympathetic … but your daughter should be prepared for a potential range of reactions.
There’s no reason she can’t ask, however. The key thing here, though, will be to stay away from framing other people’s scent choices as rude; she should frame it solely as a sensitivity issue on her side. If she starts arguing what others should or shouldn’t be doing, she’ll alienate people and come across as trying to control things that aren’t hers to control. If, however, she sticks to explaining the impact on her and suggesting some reasonable accommodations, she’s likely to get a better reception. And if she can stick to how it affects her, sometimes simply explaining the problem to other people is all it takes (and of course, other times it’s not.)
From a legal standpoint, how much she could push her office to take action probably comes down to how severely fragrances affect her. A federal court did rule earlier this year that an employee with asthma and chemical sensitivity to scented products could pursue an Americans with Disabilities Act claim against her employer for not accommodating her disability, but her reactions to fragrance were fairly severe (difficulty breathing, eventually resulting in emergency medical treatment). (And note the case hasn’t been decided at trial yet; she’s simply been cleared to proceed under the ADA.)
But your daughter probably doesn’t want to have to pursue this legally anyway and would rather her office just help her out on this. She might take a look at some of the resources out there on fragrance-free workplaces, like this one and this one, to help prepare her to talk to her employer.
What other advice do people have?